Africans Abroad: Nigerian trio comes to the fore as 2020 slinks to a close

Nigerian trio Semi Ajayi, Alex Iwobi and Ademola Lookman were among Africa's star performers in the Premier League during the glut of festive fixtures, while Wilfried Zaha was eclipsed by Bertrand Traore in Crystal Palace's defeat by Aston Villa.

Ajayi highlights Allardyce impact

Perhaps the biggest shock of the festive fixtures came on Sunday evening, when relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion held reigning champions Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

It was a victory for defensive organisation and resiliency, with incoming manager Sam Allardyce bringing some of the values that have characterised his career to date to bear on a rugged and disciplined display.

Big Sam will also be aware, however, how much he owes to Nigeria international Ajayi, who stole a point from an admittedly sub-par Liverpool -- cancelling out Sadio Mane's opener -- with an 82nd-minute header.

The Albion may have won only one game all season, but Ajayi has been a ray of light in testing campaign... particularly considering he was playing in the third tier as recently as 2018.

Mane's delicious 12th-minute opener, after being played in beyond Ajayi by Joel Matip, appeared to set the Reds on their way to another comfortable triumph, but Albion's steely resolve repeatedly stymied Liverpool's attacks before they prised open the visitors.

In the final 10 minutes, having kept the champions at bay -- with Mohamed Salah having earlier headed over from a Gigi Wijnaldum cross -- Ajayi struck back, meeting a cross from Romaine Sawyers with a triumphant leap above Fabinho to send a fine header looping over Alisson.

It was a delightful effort from the Nigeria defender, who bounded off in celebration after watching the ball sail in off the woodwork, and later led a late charge forward as the Throstles attempted to further punish the hosts' profligacy.

Expect Ajayi's aerial threat to be a key weapon in Allardyce's arsenal -- only two defenders in the English football league have scored more headed goals than the former Rotherham United man across the last two and a half seasons.

"The resilience of the side gave us the chance to create more in the second half which ultimately resulted in a fantastic chance for Karlan Grant and then big Semi fired in a great header," Big Sam told Sky Sports after the match.

"I'm just glad it went in. Every man today served the spirit of the team in terms of what we need to get out of the division."

While Klopp appeared to take the dropped points in his stride at full-time, he was glum when questioned about the prognosis for Matip, who limped off early in the second half as his body again appeared to hijack his promising Reds career.

"Joel told me he felt something in his adductor and that's obviously not too good," Klopp told journalists after the match.

"I am not sure how serious it is now, but it was serious enough that he had to leave the pitch."

Iwobi and Lookman star

Two of Ajayi's fellow Nigerians caught the eye on Boxing Day, as Iwobi's Everton downed Sheffield United, and Lookman's Fulham held Southampton to extend their undefeated streak to four matches.

With James Rodriguez still injured, Iwobi continued to deputise in an advanced role for the Toffees, taking his place in Carlo Ancelotti's front four, in support of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The former Arsenal man dovetailed superbly with Mason Holgate, shifted to his favoured right-back role, to deliver one of his best performances in a blue shirt yet.

He completed six dribbles during the course of the encounter -- at least twice as many as any other player on the pitch -- and registered more accurate crosses than any of his teammates.

While he did lose the ball on seven occasions, he tested Aaron Ramsdale with a stinging effort and proved his confidence with some flamboyant footwork to evade the attentions of a swathe of Blades defenders.

At Craven Cottage, Lookman again looked like Fulham's main threat with another bold display, creating three goalscoring chances -- more than any other player on the pitch -- and also beat his man on two occasions.

Ola Aina and Tosin Adarabioyo played their part in another controlled defensive display as the Cottagers extended their undefeated run, although it will be Lookman -- the most inventive of their attacking talents -- who can play a key role in converting those draws to victories.

The heartbeat of this Fulham side continues to be Cameroon midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, and a case could be made that the former Villarreal loanee is the best player in his position outside the league's big six clubs so far this season.

Against Saints, he ran the show in the heart of the park, winning a remarkable 10 tackles and completing more dribbles (six) than any other player in the contest. In fact, only Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximim have averaged more dribbles per match than the Indomitable Lion so far this season.

His athletic qualities and technical prowess were evident -- in glimpses -- during his troubled first season at Fulham, as the Londoners were relegated in 2018-19, but his transformation into one of the league's most commanding defensive midfielders has been startling.

Traore eclipses Zaha as Villa win again

Aston Villa, one of the season's surprise packages so far, were big winners on Boxing Day as they defeated Crystal Palace 3-0 in a feisty encounter.

Bertrand Traore was Africa's star performer, making it two goals in two by following up his strike against West Bromwich Albion with the fifth-minute opener against the Eagles.

The Burkina Faso forward had begun the move that lead to his strike, playing in Ollie Watkins and then capitalising quickest when Vicente Guaita could only deflect the latter's effort into his path.

Traore, who also hit the woodwork, thoroughly eclipsed Zaha, who was utterly neutralised as the Eagles' would-be chief attacking threat.

In a showing reminiscent of some of the Ivorian's more frustrating outings of recent years, the attacker found himself increasingly silenced by opposition defenders and was distracted from his key purpose by ongoing spats.

He got the better of Tyrone Mings, who was sent off for two yellow cards, but the subdued Eagles were unable to capitalise on their man advantage.

Villa went on to draw 1-1 with Chelsea on Monday, with Anwar El-Ghazi securing the equaliser in the second half.